I’m going to preface this post with an apology to any Sopranos fans out there. I am not writing this to mock what you went through tonight. Perhaps you were happy with the way the show ended, and thought it to be a gorgeous crescendo of suspense that finally peaked with a tough lesson in the open-ended nature of life. Maybe you were so unhappy that you threw your remote at your dog or your TV or at the nearest Italian-American. I’m writing this from the perspective of a prospective fan who has just never had the time to sit there and catch up on the series. I was cursed with the gift of youth, which resulted in my not coming into full television maturity until the early 21st Century; so I’ve spent the better part of the new millennium watching every damn show I could, and The Sopranos, while nearing the top of the list, simply has not come up.

What you can take away from that excuse is that while I don’t watch the series actively, I plan on someday being a big fan and appreciating the series very much. I have no vendetta against the show or creator David Chase, and I can relate to James Gandolfini on many levels, both being Italian Americans from New Jersey who attended Rutgers (though I certainly look much Irisher than he does). I also do not affiliate myself with anti-defamation leagues and, in fact, enjoying defaming very much. My bias on the episode simply is a result of being someone who studies media effects both as a hobby and prospective career, and I find it fascinating to observe the fallout after an ultra-hyped event like this ends in a way that no one could have thought. I find the resulting scrambling and madness completely hilarious, and there has never been a funnier practical joke than tonight’s season finale.

(This would be a good point to mention that if you haven’t seen it yet, and have been waiting your entire life to see that final moment, and don’t want it ruined by some two-bit blogger, turn your head and hit Cmd-W [or Ctrl-W] right now because I will say what happened in the proceeding paragraph.)

OK, here is how it ended: Tony sits in a diner, waiting for his family to join him for a dinner. First Carmela joins him, just after Tony decides to play Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ on the table’s mini jukebox. The camera takes repeated notice of a suspicious character sitting at a nearby table. As AJ enters, he is preceded by another suspicious man, who takes a seat at the counter and looks over at Tony. Meadow has some trouble parking her car outside, and the song continues to grow parallel to the building tension in the room as the camera darts between parties like a nervous onlooker. Finally Meadow gets out of her car, and the man at the counter heads ominously into the bathroom. Meadow crosses the street in front of a roaring truck and arrives at the entrance. Our final shot is of the Soprano family, eating onion rings at their table, as the bell atop the door jingles along with (assumedly) Meadow’s entrance to the eatery. As the bell rings, and we see Tony’s face for one last brief moment, we are presented with a pitch-black screen. The screen stays black for 5 or so very long seconds, and then we are presented with a silent ending credits screen. The show has ended.

Artistically, as nothing more than a fan of TV, I found this ending strikingly beautiful. Chase’s decision will be discussed and argued and analyzed and loathed for longer than he will live, and I think that is what made it so incredible. David Chase didn’t want to wrap up the series with a neat little bow because this show has never been about neat, clean plot lines and predicability. What makes it so great is its gritty realism and the humanity that can be seen, or maybe not seen, in the characters. The world they live in is, for fans, as real as our own. There is nothing more true in our own lives each day than open-endedness. Nothing ever just ends. Chase embraces the beauty of that by ending the show with a smack in the face to his fans; a wake-up call, reminding them that things aren’t ending for Tony when the camera stops rolling. Life goes on, no matter what, and to present him with a neat little ending would have gone against the hyper-realistic tone that is so hard to achieve in TV.

Or maybe life doesn’t go on? Another way to observe the way it ended was to take that final blackness as the end of Tony. I find this route to be even more profound and beautiful. The show has followed Tony for 8 years now, and it would make sense that if Tony ends, so does everything we see. The last thing Tony ever sees is his daughter coming in through the door. He hears the bell, and then there is blackness. No pearly gates or flashing of light. Chase gives viewers a cold, harsh perspective on the sudden loss of life. If Tony was killed in that instant, he would go black. He would not get to stick around and see what happened with his family. For the deceased, the story ends there. In an unforeseen instant, all life is taken from him. He would not be present for the blood splatter, the scrambling and screaming and shooting that could take place after. Tony’s story has ended, and therefore, so has ours.

Of course I do not find this type of murder funny. But I do think there is a lot of humor in the way the media affects our viewing of television and movies, and the mere thought of just blacking out the screen at the moment of climax must have had the writers room laughing for days. I’ll share a story of my own home while viewing the ending; my dad, the only real fan in the family, was watching alongside the rest of us late-comers who were just tuning in to not be ignorant when the media turned it into a timeless moment in pop culture in the coming months and years. The moment it went black, the family started wondering aloud what had happened. My dad reached for the remote and angrily blamed it on the DVR. After rewinding 15 seconds, we watched it again, and again it went black. Then, after a few seconds of waiting, they ran the credits. Stunned silence and uneasy chuckles followed. At that moment I thought about the sheer millions of people who, at the exact same time, suddenly got very angry with their cable provider.

Most likely, a majority of people watching on the edge of their seats had to assume that their service had just dropped out at the most inopportune time possible. Swears and scrambling for remotes could be heard rolling across the time zones as different states went through the same 5-second torture. When the ending credits began to roll, the anger shifted to confusion, which remained with fans for a short while. After about 3 or 4 slides, confusion had been replaced with a sad acceptance. That is the part that I find hilarious. I imagine a nation of confused, scrambling, swearing dads who are unsure what is going on and are ready to take on whoever was responsible for the mistake that just took place. Then, I see them all saying “Oh, wait… its over? That was it?” David Chase took a cue from Ashton Kutcher tonight when he Punk’d the media circus and the hype machine that has been swarming him since the first episode of this season aired. He took all the talking heads and fair-weather fans and the media machine that has been blindly speculating about mass-hits and explosions and fireworks, and he shut them up with an ending that was smarter than anyone could have expected.

Hype is a necessity. Without it, the Superbowl would just be some football game and Paris Hilton’s recent struggles with the law would be yet another police report blandly printed in the local papers. Humans need things to be pumped up and exaggerated to make us care about them. But of course, hype can be a bad thing. Too much hype can only lead to disappointment, and that is where some of the comedy comes from for me. People built up tonight to be an all-out guns blazing war between NY and NJ, maybe a surprise comeback of characters that had not been seen in a while, or maybe something even bigger. But when they wrote this show, they did not write to the hype. We created an incredible pillar that this show could never have lived up to. Fans would have been upset if a smart series like this ended with a brainless killfest.

But, of course, what can the media do about tonight’s episode but complain? A valid discussion of what was seen maybe be found in certain columns written by rational thinking TV critics across the nation (I don’t know how it’s been received yet, since I wanted to write this without any outside influence). Maybe they’ll call it “confusing” on CNN. Perhaps morning radio hosts will complain that it was a cop out. In reality, of course, straying from the anything but the reality they’ve shown for 8 years now would be a lie and a cop-out. But the media likes to be right about things, and tonight’s ending was not predicted by any of them, so it will probably be ill-received. Even if it was more profound than what they wanted, it didn’t quite live up to the hype. So now begins the negative hype machine calling for David Chase’s head. It is this unhealthy raising of the bar and then inevitable mob opinion-leading (no pun intended) that takes place which is so funny to anyone who can take a step back and look at it from an outsider’s perspective for a while.

Fans want to see something. They want to be given something to talk about with their friends, and if that thing happens to be a whacking, then all the better. It is really hard to stand around the watercooler and discuss realism and the hard truth of being on the wrong side of death, and the open-ended, unsure nature of our own life. But hopefully, fans of the series put their anger and misunderstanding aside and actually spend some time thinking about the deeper meaning of what they were exposed to tonight. I may not have invested 86 hours of my life into the show, but that doesn’t mean I can’t grasp what it felt like to see it end. Losing any TV show sucks, I’ve been through my fair share of series finales that I actually cared about. But don’t let your being upset that you’ll never see these characters you love again interfere with the way you think about the ending of tonight’s episode, because if you put that aside and look at it in the broad scheme of things, it really is appropriate, real, and perhaps even beautiful. It’s also pretty funny.